Father Of Arrested Belarus Blogger Says Son "Physically Harmed"

US, EU Accuse Belarus of Terrorism After Plane Diverted to Arrest Journalist

At a summit in Brussels on Monday night, the 27 leaders of the European Union countries agreed quickly to drawing up fresh individual and targeted economic sanctions against Belarus.

The forced landing of the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius on Sunday and arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich sparked an worldwide outcry and calls for tough action against the longtime Belarusian leader.

What actions could the European Union take?

The comments were immediately dismissed by his allies as having been made under duress.

Biden made the statement - and joined calls for an worldwide investigation - as the European Union imposed sanctions against Belarus, including banning its airlines from using the airspace and airports in the 27-nation bloc in reaction to Sunday's forced diversion of the Lithuania-bound Ryanair flight. "We still don't know where he is, what his condition is, how he feels", the father, who lives in Poland, said by telephone. "The United States joins countries around the world in calling for his release, as well as for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners who are being unjustly detained by the Lukashenka regime". From now - no one flying over Belarus - can be secure.

Trudeau said the arrest Sunday of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich after a fighter jet forced down his flight in the country's airspace amounts to a "clear attack on democracy and freedom of the press".

Together with co-founder Stepan Putilo, Protasevich until recently ran the Nexta channel on messaging app Telegram, which helped organise the protests that were the biggest challenge to Lukashenko's 26-year rule.

The Belarusian leader enjoys financial and security support from Russian Federation.

Protasevich and Putilo were added to Belarus's list of "individuals involved in terrorist activity" a year ago.

Separately, the Belarusian embassy in Ottawa said it is shutting its doors, stating in a website post it will suspend activity as of September 1.

Still, the options for Western retaliation appear limited.

The transcript, which Reuters could not independently verify, differs from excerpts previously released by Belarus state TV, which had suggested the pilot had asked to land in Minsk, rather than that the controller had advised him to do so.

Belarus lies on the flight path of routes within Europe and between Europe and Asia, and skirting Belarus would slow flights down and cost airlines money.

Canada announced sanctions against 55 Belarusian officials past year after an election that Ottawa said was "marred by widespread irregularities" and a "systemic campaign of repression" and human rights violations under President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko denies election fraud.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said it proved Protasevich had been tortured.

A Belarusian fighter jet was scrambled to escort the plane to Minsk, just before it was to land in Vilnius, Lithuania, from Athens, Greece.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said in a joint statement with his counterparts from seven European parliamentary panels denouncing the forced landing as "an act of piracy". I really hope that the global community will stand up.

Belarus says it acted in response to a false bomb threat written in the name of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Belarusian state media have reported that Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, who referred to the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking, said he believed security agents had been on the flight.

It remained unclear why the specific passengers got off at Minsk.

US President Joe Biden slammed the forced diversion of the plane and arrest of Protasevich as "a direct affront to worldwide norms" and said the video appeared to have been made "under duress".

Mr Biden also welcomed EU calls for targeted economic sanctions and said he had asked his team to "develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and worldwide organisations".

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